Throughout this past winter, student scholars at Ridge and Valley Charter School explored ocean currents, climate, and plastic pollution. Students read, researched, and learned about plastic pollution, focusing on single-use plastic items which make their way into our ocean systems. They looked at the policies of a number of other states, as well as other countries, which impose single-use plastic bag bans at grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores. The students also learned about the proposed bag tax in New Jersey. They then researched the topic of plastic bags and crafted argumentative essays detailing their positions on the issue of a plastic bag ban in New Jersey.
Ridge and Valley Charter School Service Learning Project with Clean Ocean Action
As part of this study, the school partnered with the Sandy Hook based organization Clean Ocean Action, a leading national and regional voice working to protect waterways along the NJ/NY coast using science, law, research, education, and citizen action. The student scientists traveled to Sandy Hook on Friday, April 7, 2017, to complete a service learning project on the beach. They participated in a “beach sweep” to collect and study debris and nonpoint-source polluted garbage brought to shore from coastal currents. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “nonpoint source pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.” Each piece of debris was identified and documented using data sheets provided by Clean Ocean Action to quantify the different types of pollution washing ashore. Clean Ocean Action creates annual reports detailing the data from clean-ups throughout the year which can be found on their website.
Real-World Experience Connected to Academic Studies
Braving high winds, cold temperatures, and rain, the 24 students collected nearly 200 pounds of debris. The majority of this debris consisted of single-use plastic pieces ranging from bottle caps to straws, including foam pieces of coffee cups. Students also noticed that exposed to the sun and elements, these usually rigid plastic pieces were brittle and, due to the plastic’s ability to photodegrade or break down into small pieces when exposed to sunlight over time, disintegrated into smaller pieces of micro-plastic which were difficult to collect. Studies by the World Economic Forum give estimates that plastic pollution in our oceans will outnumber fish by the year 2050.
This opportunity provided the students with real-world experience connected to their academic studies, a greater sense of purpose for their learning, and opportunities to build skills in math, science, collaboration, and communication while witnessing and experiencing an environmental threat.
A Student Essay Supporting a Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags in New Jersey:
Every year, about one and a half trillion plastic bags are used, as stated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of the EPA is to protect the “health of humans and the environment.” These plastic bags are all single-use, meaning they usually have a one-time use and then are thrown away. A few alternatives would be reusable shopping bags and bringing back your previous single-use plastic bags or paper bags. Banning single-use plastic bags in New Jersey will bring a positive outcome because plastic bags harm wildlife, are virtually indestructible, and manufacturing can damage our air and the environment.
For instance, plastic bags can float around in the wind because they are so light, getting entangled in bushes, trees, or even animals. They can even be consumed by either land or water species. Others may say that the animals shouldn’t be eating the plastic because it is not their natural diet. However, turtles, especially, will mistake the plastic bags for jellyfish causing blockages in their digestive system. According to the center for Biological Diversity, which is helping to conserve the land and waters for all different species, “100,000 marine animals die annually from plastic bags.” It can take a tremendous amount of money to just clean up the plastic bags and other littered garbage in our waterways, costing $428 million a year for the state of California, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council whose mission is to allow everybody to clean air, water, and wild. This is important because it could take a significant toll on the animals of New Jersey, endangering their health and their environment. We need to help by cleaning up the plastic bags, in order to make a safe habitat for the animals and plants.
In addition, plastic is virtually indestructible because it photodegrades from the sun. According to the documentary Plastic Paradise by Angela Sun, a film about how plastic affects animals and plants health, but also her experience learning about where plastic is created from, “photodegrade” means the plastic breaks into smaller and smaller fragments of plastic when exposed to sunlight. This can be even more harmful to the animals because it can be easier for them to consume and digest and then pass its way up the food chain. It is easy to think that plastic, like almost everything else, biodegrades, but when you look at the facts, it shows that it never actually goes away. It is another great reason to ban single-use plastic bags in New Jersey because this plastic could eventually make its way into our bodies.
In fact, plastic bags are made from fossil fuels which are non-renewable. They also take large amounts of water and energy to manufacture and ship them. During the process, billions of pound of waste and millions of tons of CO2 are left each year in the United States. ReuseThisBag.com, has been around for ten years and makes bags that are reusable. They state that each minute, we use one million plastic bags. All of this adds up over time because these plastic bags all need to go somewhere. Critics of the plastic bag ban may argue that most people recycle their plastic bags, however, according to Plastic Paradise, only one out seven bags are recycled, whereas the others are thrown away, ending up in landfills or as litter.
All in all, we should particularly ban single-use plastic bags in New Jersey because plastic bags harm the wildlife, are virtually indestructible, and manufacturing can damage our air and environment. By banning single-use plastic bags in our state it will help the environment, save money by stopping the manufacturing of bags, and we will minimize plastic pollution in New Jersey. If we don’t start banning single-use plastic bags now, there will be an enormous amount of plastic bags in the future, particularly in our rivers and ocean, not just in our landfills. Together, we can help support this idea by reducing the amount of any kinds of single-use plastics and stick to reusable bags.
7th Grade Student
Ridge and Valley Charter School
1234 State Route 94
Blairstown, New Jersey 07825
Ridge and Valley Charter School Students put their Education to Good Use
Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) 2nd and 3rd grade Nova Team students have been planning for their upcoming overnight expedition to Pocono Environmental Expedition Center (PEEC) in Dingman’s Ferry, PA. They successfully developed a strategy to raise money for the trip by hosting a student-led market where they sold handmade goods to the school community. This was a great lesson in planning and execution for these young entrepreneurs.
Overnight expeditionary experiences like the PEEC trip are embedded into the RVCS curriculum, from kindergarten through graduation, and offer some of the most important and exciting opportunities to its students. Not only are these experiences a critical element in the development of self-confidence and a love of the natural world, but they also provide a rich, integrated way to learn and apply the skills and knowledge that the students are studying throughout the year.
Creating a school market to fundraise for the trip was closely tied to the mission and foundational principles of the school which includes student-led and experiential learning, integrated curriculum and ecological literacy.
RVCS students are placed at the center of their own learning and are empowered to make decisions for themselves. RVCS and families partner to fund student trips. The Nova Team students decided to offset the family cost and were inspired to fundraise for their special trip. They came up with the idea to create a student-led market at the school where they could sell handmade items to students, families and teachers. They took the idea from inception to fruition with great success.
Art, crafting, building and creating are woven into the curriculum at RVCS so the students are adept at making beautiful creations that could be appealing to consumers. The students, in a circle meeting format unique to the school, brainstormed what they wanted to make and how to structure the market. They planned, organized, agreed on prices and set up the market as if they were the owners of a real store. They then worked at the market, interacted with customers, communicated about the products and handled the financial side of receiving and counting money.
Experiential learning like this occurs when students are placed in a situation where they think and interact, learn in and from a real-world environment. While traditional teaching and learning are typically teacher-directed, content-driven, text-oriented and classroom-based, experiential learning involves active participation of the student in planning, development and execution of learning activities, is shaped by the problems and pressures arising from the real-world situation and occurs most effectively outside the classroom.
Students at RVCS build cross-discipline skills that integrate subject matter through hands-on experiential activities that activate a wide range of sensibilities, skills and awareness. It’s a way of teaching and learning that does not depend on the usual division of knowledge into separate subjects.
The students used their math, language arts, science, and communication skills simultaneously in just about every aspect of the market. Much of what they sold had a connection to what they learned this year. Some of the items they decided to make were bird feeders, bee blocks, a class recipe book, star braid looms made from wood harvested at the school, natural dryer balls, herb infused lip balm, gardener’s hand salve and weather wands, a result of their study of weather cycles, local bird habitats, cooking, gardening, math and language arts.
Ridge and Valley Charter School believes that it is possible to create a more ecologically sustainable future and that our children have a right to a planet of pure air, clean water, a vibrant natural world and a more just and equitable human community.
In keeping with the mission of the school, the students wanted the items they made to be composed of natural, organic and locally sourced ingredients as well as donated items that could be reused and repurposed. They recognized that these items are more sustainable and better for the planet. Some of the materials even came from the school land.
Nova Market was a success!
The student-led market was a success with almost all of the items selling out. Their goal was to raise $300 however, the market was so popular that the students raised over $1000. There was a great sense of accomplishment and so much learned along the way.
Ridge and Valley Charter School will be hosting an series of Information Night and Open House events for the 2016-2017 school year for prospective families interested in learning more about the school.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017 830AM-1030AM
Thursday, May 4, 2017 7PM-8PM
If you or someone you know would like to consider RVCS as an option for your child’s education, please contact Jen Ross at 908-362-1114 to RSVP for the event.
Our Annual Student-Led Conferences are One of the Many Things that make Ridge & Valley Charter School Unique
Student-led conferences are meetings with students, parents, and teachers (called “guides” at RVCS) during which a student shares work and discusses his/her progress. The intention is for the student to lead the meeting from start to finish. Student involvement in a conference makes learning active, provides opportunities for students to evaluate their own performance, and encourages students to take responsibility for their learning. Having students take charge of the conference makes them more accountable for what they are learning.
Prior to conferences, the students, with guide support, collect work that reflects what they have learned. Students then evaluate their work and, as they conduct their conference, explain skills they have learned and share goals they have set for themselves. While a guide may serve as the conference facilitator, the student will lead the conference.
Student-led conferences offer the opportunity for students to play an important part in their own educational process. This approach fits beautifully with the holistic, student-centered focus of our mission that recognizes children are capable and responsible.
The Student-Led Conference Format Offers Many Benefits to Students, Including:
- Having greater accountability for their learning
- Learning to think about and evaluate their own progress
- Gaining a greater commitment to school work and learning
- Building self-confidence and self-esteem
- Encouraging student/parent communication
- Building communication and critical thinking skills
- Placing greater responsibility on the student
- Allowing students to become more actively involved
Families Benefit from this Format as Well as it:
- Helps families learn more about their child’s learning and skills
- Offers an opportunity for families to help their child set positive goals
- Encourages active family participation in their child’s learning
Conferences are a wonderful opportunity for families to see, hear and experience their child’s learning and progress. To learn more about our holistic assessment practices visit our website.
From a young age students at Ridge and Valley Charter School develop a love of reading. There is a strong focus on becoming confident readers and writers. In a recent unit kindergarten students have been excited to use their reading “super powers” to help develop their reading skills.
Ridge & Valley’s Reading and Writing Model Inspired by Columbia University
At Ridge and Valley Charter School, a Reading and Writing Workshop model inspired by Columbia University‘s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is used. There is a focus on developing students’ reading, writing and speaking skills within their own areas of interest. Doing so in the context of real and practical applications of those skills allows the learner to see the difference that their efforts can make. Instruction is embedded in content, topics and books chosen by the students and is differentiated based on their abilities. This model helps Ridge and Valley Charter School students develop a deep rooted strength in reading and writing that serves them well in high school and beyond.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate Lara Watrous has been awarded the highest Girl Scout honor, the “Gold Award.” As a Gold Award recipient, Lara is part of an elite group of women. Only 5-6% of all Girl Scouts earn this award which requires completion of an ambitious service project aimed at improving their communities–and the world. Lara’s passion for horses inspired her to embark on a project aimed at raising awareness for a therapeutic horse riding facility called Riding with HEART (RwH) in Alexandria, NJ. To learn more about Lara’s impressive accomplishments and Gold Award recognition check out this article:
Ridge and Valley Charter School students participate in a number of garden projects throughout each year. They save seeds for planting, tend to various gardens and orchard, and ultimately harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This past season they harvested a bountiful tomato crop. Sixteen quarts of tomatoes were harvested, blanched, peeled, and frozen this fall by students. As they studied food systems, the students explored ways to share their abundant harvest and make an impact on the food system in our area. While furthering their learning of food systems, these middle school students reached out to help the food insecure in our area.
Making Local Connections
During their quest to donate the organic food grown in their garden and volunteer at a local soup kitchen, the students connected with a local Blairstown establishment, Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant, to prepare food for donation in the restaurant’s board certified commercial kitchen. A date was set, and delicious tomato soup was made with guidance from Buck Hill’s head chef. Chef Brett shared his expertise and tricks of the trade with the students. The organic and locally grown tomato soup was shared with Manna House in Newton. Many of the students also participated in serving the meal, as well.
Ridge and Valley Experiences Provide Students with a Sense of Purpose
This experience added a sense of authentic purpose to the students’ work, as well as enhanced their experience learning to grow food and study of systems. Ridge and Valley Charter School is grateful to Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant and Manna House for their willingness to partner with our students in their efforts to make a difference.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate, Calvin Carroll, is making a splash in the world of stock car racing. At just 16 years old, racing has always been his passion. As a student at Ridge and Valley Charter School he apprenticed with an auto mechanic shop during “Independent Study” time. Independent Study at RVCS is a dedicated time when students are involved in the process of identifying personal interests, setting goals, finding resources, planning and following through on projects, documenting their process and self-reflecting and sharing outcomes. This independent study opportunity for students comes from RVCS’ fundamental belief that all children are intrinsically motivated learners and are ultimately capable of directing their own learning.
This could not be more true for Calvin whose hard work, passion and dedication are certainly paying off. He recently competed at Daytona International Speedway during two days of the ARCA Racing Series. He also plans to run for Rookie of the Year honors with the NASCAR Whelen Modified tour. To learn more about Calvin’s racing career and his great showing at Daytona recently check out this article in Race Pro Weekly.
Read the news article featured on raceproweekly.com here
The governance model at Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) is collaborative, circle-based modified consensus. Students, teachers, trustees, and families use the circle form for meetings, discussions, and decision-making in small and large groups and in committees.
The Circle, an Ancient Form of Meeting
The circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years and has served as the foundation for many cultures. What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening. This practice is expanding widely into corporations, non-profit and NGO boards, education, healthcare, community activism, and religious communities as a highly applicable form of collaborative governance.
The Circle Way
Ridge and Valley Charter School has benefited from resources and guidance from mentors connected to the organization PeerSpirit, who train organizations in The Circle Way. This practice is a “body of work combining ancient lineage and modern social technology into a refined, lightly structured group process.” The two founders, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, taught, applied and evolved this work in a worldwide 25-year writing and teaching cycle.
RVCS has refined its own circle practice through onsite trainings, study of the book “The Circle Way – A Leader in Every Chair,” by Baldwin and Linnea, and the informative PeerSpirit website (www.peerspirit.com). These tools have supported the evolution and development of school-wide practices of a foundational model of circle governance.
Circle-Based Collaboration Foster Relationships and Responsibility
The trustees and staff credit the responsibility and relationships fostered by circle-based collaboration to long-term success of the school. Both the children and adults seek to model the personal responsibility and mutual respect necessary to work in a circle of peers: to ask for what you need and to offer what you can, in support of the explicit shared intention of the group.
Ask students at Ridge and Valley Charter School what “circle” is and they will have a lot to share. They will say it is how they help to govern their classroom; that it is an opportunity for them to listen to new ideas while having a voice of their own. The Circle Way fosters a sense of confidence and empowerment in these students that they will carry on into adulthood.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate and budding filmmaker, Sadie Price-Elliot, had her film “Patience” accepted into the Student Film Showcase at this year’s Black Bear Film Festival in Milford, PA. Currently, a sophomore at Sussex County Technical School studying cinematography, Sadie wrote and directed the film when she was just a freshman. The festival spotlights independent filmmakers and their work with screenings held at a variety of venues throughout the town.
For more information about Sadie’s accomplishments check out the write up in the NJ Herald here!